Study suggests in-car systems are causing more problem than booze or drugs.

By now, we're all well aware of the dangers of driving while using a handheld mobile phone or while under the influence of alcohol - or at least we should be. But new research suggests in-car technology could be every bit as dangerous.

A study commissioned by IAM Roadsmart, formerly known as the Institute of Advanced Motorists, found that distractions caused by infotainment systems impair drivers’ reaction times more than alcohol and cannabis use. The research revealed that using touch control resulted in reaction times that were even worse than texting while driving.

The research, which was undertaken by Transport Research Laboratory on behalf of IAM Roadsmart, the FIA and the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, showed that slower reaction times caused by drivers using infotainment screens at motorway speeds increased average stopping distances to between four and five car lengths. And the study also found that drivers took their eyes off the road for as long as 16 seconds while driving — equivalent to a distance of more than 500 metres at 70 mph.

IAM RoadSmart and TRL reaction times graphic

During the tests, drivers were asked to complete a series of three drives on the same simulated test route to assess the impact of the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems. On the first run, drivers did not use the system, while the second run saw drivers use the voice control functions alone. On the third run, the drivers used touch control.

Both methods were found to significantly distract drivers, but TRL said touchscreen control proved to be more distracting than voice control. And although the organisation said many drivers realised the system was causing a distraction and modified their behaviour, their driving performance was still adversely affected. The drivers were found to be unable to maintain a constant distance to the vehicle in front, and less capable of staying in their lane. They also reacted more slowly to sudden occurrences.

Android Auto mobile app on the display of tablet PC

“Driver distraction is estimated to be a factor in around a third of all road collisions in Europe each year,” said Neil Greig, policy and research director at IAM RoadSmart. “While previous research indicates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto perform better than more traditional buttons and controls, the results from this latest study raise some serious concerns about the development and use of the latest in-vehicle infotainment systems. Anything that distracts a driver’s eyes or mind from the road is bad news for road safety.

“We’re now calling on industry and government to openly test and approve such systems and develop consistent standards that genuinely help minimise driver distraction. While we would like to see a review of these systems in the future, we’d encourage owners of vehicles fitted with these systems to use them in the safest possible way, including setting everything up before starting a journey.”

Motor1.com has contacted Apple and Google, the company behind Android, for comment, but has not yet received a response.

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